I woke up and before I sat up in bed, I felt around for my smart phone. Through half-opened eyes, I silenced my alarm and opened the Facebook app. There it was in my news feed: another close-up of a friend’s hand, with an emphasis on her ring finger. That makes two engagements this week, I thought.
Happy as I was for her, I couldn’t help but sleepily peek at my own – bare – ring finger.
Then I checked my e-mail. There it was: another Thank you for spending hours on completing our online employment application, If-You-Were-Stuck-On-An-Island test andSAT questions – but another candidate was just, well, better than you. Okay, so it didn’t really say that, but it was another generic job-rejection e-mail.
As grateful as I tried to be for “God clearly closing a door,” I couldn’t help but feel a little deflated about the fact I had woke up in my parents’ house. Again. Twenty-nine years old, and for at least the third time in my 20s, I was back in my mom and dad’s spare bedroom.
This wasn’t part of the plan. Not my plan, anyway.
When I finished college, my plan was to get a fabulous job and work for a few years, until I met and married the love of my life. This would all happen between the ages of 21 and 26. Then, from 26 to 30, Mr. Right and I would enjoy a blissful year together before starting our family. I figured I could have at least two kids by the time I turned 30.
(Remember: Bare ring finger. Twenty-nine years old. Mom & Dad’s spare bedroom.)
It can be tempting to doubt God’s sovereignty when we feel so far from where we thought we’d be. We often say “yes” to following God, but assume that means He’ll follow our lead. Our mouths may sing “Jesus, take the wheel,” but our hearts may say “and be my chauffeur.”
In the past eight years, almost nothing has panned out as I tried to plan. And that’s good news: because if there’s one thing I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way), it’s that there is no place I’d rather be than in God’s will. And no plan I’d rather follow than His plan.
Now, when you’re frustrated in life, you can ask God to reveal the “why”—but more important than that is the “how,” as in, how you respond. In some cases, how I needed to respond had to involve repentance for sin in my life. I had to take an active step out of a certain set of circumstances, before I could enjoy better ones.
Other times, though, God wasn’t waiting for my repentance – He was waiting for my patience or persistence.
Seeking His leading is essential to discerning His will. You can talk to your friends until you’re blue in the face, but their advice won’t help you the way His wisdom will. The Bible is filled with insight into responding to unexpected circumstances, self-imposed or not: from the Israelites who turned an 11-day journey into a 40-year one; to the Apostle Paul, who endured years in prison and still praised God.
When I think God should change my circumstances, He’s actually offering something better: to change my heart.
Sometimes that change meant admitting I sinned like the adulterous King David, or the disobedient prophet Jonah. Thankfully, both of those men turned a repentant corner and were still used mightily by God. But they each had to make the choice to follow God’s way instead of trying to assert their own ways.
And sometimes the change was simply growth, like choosing faith over feelings. For example, I remember a particular bedtime prayer with God a few years back. I had dropped out of graduate school and thought I was taking a bold step of faith. Except, it all seemed to backfire (or so I thought).
The prayer-chat with God went a little something like this:
Me: God, are you paying attention? You do realize my life is, like, stuck, right? Now, if YOU would just change my circumstances – give me a job, send me my husband, or something – then I would actually have something to get up for in the morning. I would get up earlier. I’d have more structure to my day. If YOU would just…change it for me!
God: Who told you that you weren’t allowed to set your alarm?
God: Who told you that you couldn’t still set your alarm, and get up early?
Me: Well…no one (except me).
God: Okay, then. You don’t have to sleep in. And your circumstances don’t change your purpose, or what I still have to share with you each day.
I usually think of that night whenever I start to feel bewildered about where my life is (or isn’t). I’ve also learned some practical steps I know will help me to stay positive, regardless of what I think my circumstances should be. Steps that have also led to some of my biggest breakthroughs! Things like church engagement, volunteering in my community, and getting regular exercise.
And yes, things like setting my alarm, too.
Rebecca Halton is the author of Words from the Other Woman: The True Account of a Redeemed Adulteress. Currently, she also co-leads TeamRedeemed.org with fellow Author and Speaker Shelley Hendrix. In her spare time, Rebecca likes hiking, having coffee with close friends, or volunteering in her community. To learn more about Rebecca, visit www.RebeccaHalton.com.